Janteice Holston and her brothers spent most of their lives in Nebraska foster care, with brief reunifications with their mother.
Through 15 placements beginning a year or so after her birth, one person became a dependable port in Holston’s stormy childhood — her court Appointed Special Advocates volunteer, Diana Drew of Trumbull. Drew came into her life when Holston, now 21, was in fourth grade.
The CASA volunteer got things moving for the kids, Holston said. A lot of behind-the-scenes information wasn’t coming out in meetings and court hearings. Drew took time to get to know Holston and her brothers and was able to represent their interests.
“Anything that we needed, she was always there for,” Holston said.
CASA volunteers are appointed by judges to speak in court for the safety and well-being of an abused or neglected child.
Corrie Kielty, executive director of CASA, said more volunteers like Drew are needed in Nebraska to represent state wards. A bill (LB126) that will get a hearing Tuesday with the Appropriations Committee would ensure more volunteers are recruited and trained for the many children in the child welfare system waiting for help.
The bill, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Amanda McGill, asks the Legislature to appropriate $500,000 in each of the next two fiscal years to help that effort, Kielty said. In the past two years, the state provided $300,000 to CASA for recruiting, training and expanding the programs.
That helped to increase the number of volunteers from 412 in 2010 to 634 in 2012.
But in the 37 counties served by 22 CASA programs, 1,665 children are waiting for volunteers, she said. About 750 to 800 more people are needed to fill that need.
New volunteers must have 30 hours of training before they can serve children, and current volunteers must have 12 hours a year of ongoing training.
Kielty said studies show a child served by a CASA volunteer spends four to five fewer months in the child welfare system. If every child had a volunteer, that reduction in care would amount to an estimated $12.5 million a month.
Children with CASA volunteers also have fewer placement changes, she said.
The organization will hold a gala March 23 at The Cornhusker to raise money. Holston will speak at the dinner and auction.
Her younger brother, who is still in the system, has lived with her in Hastings for about seven months. Drew is his CASA worker but also checks in frequently with Holston to see whether she needs anything.
Every foster child should have a CASA worker, Holston said.
“It’s really just a good support system,” she said. “You have that one person that’s not paid to be there. … They go out of their way to actually see you. And they’re on your side, more than anything.”
When a lot of other people were letting her down, Drew was there for her.
“She just really helped me learn how to trust people and know that there are good people in the world that I can rely on,” she said. “She has a really good heart.”
- Journal Star: JoAnne Young March 12, 2013